After ten days away, we arrived home Sunday afternoon. By we, I mean me, my husband, and our two daughters – one soon to be 18, and one just turned 13. I mention their ages because it’s important to note that these girls aren't small children requiring constant supervision, but more or less independent people, each able to make fairly sophisticated decisions about her own well-being on a small scale. Or so I thought.
Now I grant you, the vacation we took was not a typical family vacation in that Stephen and I went to participate in the classes and general sessions offered by the annual Objectivist Conference. This meant we were engaged for much of the day apart from one another, but still, we were staying at the Marriot Harbor Beach Resort & Spa, a beautiful resort on the Atlantic, not Ed’s roadside motel. We were on the beach, with a huge pool complex, complete with canopy bed-like loungers, lounge chairs, umbrellas, two chair cabanas, a Starbucks and wireless internet in the lobby, chairs, couches, and a comfy station at which to plug in and work. There was the opportunity to snorkel, ride banana boats, play tennis, and go para-sailing. Our room was nicely appointed with a balcony overlooking the pool and ocean, but mostly, it was one small room with two large beds for four people – one of whom talks in her sleep.
When the weather was nice, the girls went to the pool. My oldest is a very strong swimmer, but more interested in getting some “base color” than in eyeballing my youngest who complained bitterly about how much pool water she swallowed on day one. When the day was rainy, as it was on two occasions, they stayed in the room. One day, on returning to the room in order to make lunch plans, I thought I had walked into a mushroom growing operation! I found them in the dark, huddled in one bed re-watching episodes of Dr. Who on the computer. They told me they had been there all morning, and planned to be there all afternoon. They seemed quite content with this plan that they could easily reenact at home.
I can’t blame the oldest for not being more excited to venture out with her little sister; I did not contract her babysitting services before we left. But the truth is that I did expect her to behave in a manner more in keeping with my idea of an older sister – bearing in mind, of course, that I don’t have one, nor was I ever one. This was my mistake: while I did my best to explain how much of the day they would spend without us, I should have been more explicit in my “take charge” expectations of her prior to her decision to come with us.
Initially, we had decided not to go to OCON this year because it meant leaving the youngest behind, or taking the youngest without some supervision. The oldest finally decided that she did want to go, and so we made our plans based on mistaken assumptions. Getting the most of the conference classes and sessions require some concentration and heavy thinking. While I attended all of my classes and most of the general sessions, I was unable to integrate the information presented in a timely manner because I was completely distracted by and concerned with my daughters’ experiences, or lack thereof which I equate with wasted opportunities. As of yet, I have gained no new knowledge about the ideas presented at the conference.
As I reflect on the experience from a distance of two days, I have grown older and wiser about my family and myself, and here is what I learned: if it can be avoided at all, don’t travel with children. Okay, I know that's not the proper way to look at it. We have had some excellent family vacations – usually centered around some historical or cultural place or event – but this was different. A resort does not a vacation make. It’s more the time spent doing things that are exciting or delightful or interesting, but that you normally can't do that makes a vacation. Some serious work needs to go into making certain you get the most out of your vacation plans. I assumed my oldest would step seamlessly into my role as Julie, your cruise director so that I could pursue other values outside of the family. She didn’t, and so I found myself straddling the line between two of my values – one, a happily engaged family, and the other, a better philosophical understanding of Objectivism – and practically speaking, I gained neither.
Finally, don’t get me wrong. At various times, this vacation was a win for me. Running on the beach, getting to hang out with some people I adore but rarely see, meeting some fabulous new folks and other friends for the first time in person, attending rousing lectures given by passionate speakers, being near the ocean, introducing the girls to Luc Travers and his Touching the Art method, were some of the high points! What I did not succeed at is preparing myself and my family for what could and should have been a more productive vacation for us all.
This is a huge bummer because that’s what I do! That’s what I'm normally good at. As family support staff, I arrange things so we each can get the most value out of our experiences! This has always been one of my biggest virtues and mostly what I neglected to act on this time. And although doing something you don't normally do is implied in my definition of a vacation, vacating my virtues was not exactly what I had in mind. It’s exhausting to fail so miserably and this failure of mine is why I need a another vacation. Immediately.
This time, I’m pretty sure that concentrating on and celebrating only one of my values—one of my highest values—in a hedonistic, resort environment, albeit temporarily, will help recharge all of my virtues. And by temporarily, I think an uninterrupted twenty-four hours—instead of twenty minutes—ought to do it.